Beloved Stranger

Beloved Stranger

by Clare Boylan

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After fifty years of marriage in the same Dublin suburb, Dick and Lily Butler enjoy a "safe" life of compromise, of small and loving concessions to each other. Then one night their happy, balanced world is upended forever, when Lily wakes to find Dick under the bed, holding a shotgun, convinced there's an intruder in the house.

This darkly comic incident marks Dick


After fifty years of marriage in the same Dublin suburb, Dick and Lily Butler enjoy a "safe" life of compromise, of small and loving concessions to each other. Then one night their happy, balanced world is upended forever, when Lily wakes to find Dick under the bed, holding a shotgun, convinced there's an intruder in the house.

This darkly comic incident marks Dick's terrifying plunge into insanity, his freefall into a world of imaginary enemies and sexual fantasies. For Lily, an old-fashioned wife who has accepted her partner for better or worse, there is nowhere to turn. Now, for the first time, she finds herself unable to follow where her husband leads and is utterly disoriented by this freedom. She is forced to confront the rock face of marriage; having been bound together, she and Dick are now marooned together.

Part thriller, part love story, part macabre comedy, Beloved Stranger is also an analysis of marriage at the end of the millennium—a changeless institution in a vastly altered world.

About the Author
Calre Boylan is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. She lives outside Dublin, Ireland.

Editorial Reviews

Jean Reynolds
A love story, with an element of mystery. Boylan's writing is moving and poetic, while also rich in sardonic humor.
Harpers &. Queens
Wry humor, perceptiveness, and superb craftsmanship...a deeply moving comparison of an old-fashioned marriage with its modern equivalents.
Clare Boylan's sixth novel transcends several genres. It's a wrenching, at times comic depiction of a marriage shattered by madness, but it's also a love story.
NY Times
[Boylan] submit[s] her characters—grievously, comically, exhilaratingly by turns—to their own free and unpredictable spirits. They do not prevail over what happens to them but neither they, nor we, are swamped. We read from the vantage of the little boats, not that of the dismal waves they sail against.
Ralph Eder
The author takes a smart and vivid account of the swirling ups and downs of circumstance and emotion.
The New York Times
With a title smacking of Harlequin romance and a plot line worthy of playwright Harold Pinter, this is a surprisingly understated drama. Dick and Lily Butler live a quiet life of compromise and respect, their days marked by routine and nostalgia, until Dick becomes erratic, paranoid and, finally, menacing. Their daughter becomes her mother's staunchest protector, only to find that Lily needs her husband more than she needs someone to stand up for her. Together Lily and Dick navigate hospitals, asylums and rest homes in search of help. After her husband is admitted, Lily discovers a mouse to feed and care for in his stead. This is an endearing novel, both mature and confident. Boylan's own father was a manic-depressive who died and was buried while she was on vacation, a fact that gives this remarkable novel its poignant surety.
—Elizabeth Kiem

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This rich, compelling novel is a domestic tragicomedy in which the details are as crucial as in a mystery story. During 50 years of married life in the same Dublin neighborhood, Dick Butler has provided for his wife, Lily. Despite Dick's occasional instances of "madness," Lily has always been deeply devoted to him, so she can barely bring herself to ask about the large checks for cash he's suddenly writing when he still considers central heating in their home too expensive. Their only daughter, Ruth, an architect, is single by choice and an ardent feminist who encourages her mother to stop playing a submissive role. When Lily awakens one night to find Dick under the bed--armed with a shotgun and convinced he has an intruder in his sights--she is not unduly alarmed; she rationalizes that it was probably only a dream. But after Dick's behavior becomes more bizarre, Ruth consults a young professor of psychiatry, Tim Walcott, and he persuades Dick to submit to tests that confirm his emotional distress as bipolar disorder. The action balances the farcical (when Dick's at home, he sells their new mattress for more than he paid for it) and the pathetic (when he's hospitalized, Lily is so lonely she makes a pet out of a mouse). Ruth, meanwhile, tries to comfort her mother and sort out her feelings for Walcott, who befriends both women. There's a suspenseful sequence of crises as Dick's condition, depicted with frankness and humor, deteriorates into full-blown manic depression, and the story turns on Lily's loving vigil. As in John Bayley's Elegy for Iris, Boylan's scrutiny of the intimate details and travails of an enduring marriage gives depth and vitality to an engrossing story, the basis for which Boylan (Home Rule) found in her own father's mental illness. (Apr. 1) Forecast: Despite its frank depiction of a syndrome that afflicts the elderly, this novel is a natural for handselling, a task made easier because of Boylan's ability to infuse gallows humor into her very engaging narrative. If booksellers get behind this title, it should thrive. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Dick and Lily Butler married young. Dick was always eccentric and volatile, while Lily, a thoughtful and intelligent woman, has always felt somewhat trapped by the expectations of her era that she be docile and subservient. As they approach their 50th wedding anniversary, Lily remembers her wedding-day thought that she should not marry Dick and her determination, once married, to honor her vows. As the marriage progresses, Dick begins to exhibit more and more bizarre behavior, and his mood swings are wild and unpredictable. He flings open windows in the middle of winter and makes wild and secretive expenditures for which he refuses to account. He is eventually diagnosed as manic/depressive and is sent to a locked ward. Lily is at first confused and afraid of this situation, which does not exactly represent freedom, yet as she comes to grips with her new reality, she gains the strength to go on. Irish author Boylan's writing plumbs the inner workings of marriage, family dynamics, women's roles, and the terrors of mental illness. Her characters are authentic and painfully convincing. Recommended.--Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Irish writer Boylan (11 Edward Street, 1992, etc.) draws on painful family memories of her own father's manic-depression for a Dublin-set story of love, aging, madness, and the price of marriage. Dick and Lily Butler, married for nearly 50 years, are the sort of doting, sweet, slightly dotty couple for whom buying and eating broccoli constitutes an adventure. Their only child, Ruth, is a hard-nosed feminist architect who can't quite see the magic in her parents' life or in their house "draped about with good feelings." The good feelings, though, dissipate and then shatter irretrievably when Dick begins to show signs of a slowly growing madness. He imagines intruders, schemers after his money, his home, his wife. Finally he explodes into utterly shocking violence, and Lily and Ruth are forced to have him committed. The crisis brings a new presence into their lives, an affable gay psychiatrist named Tim Walcott. As the disease makes its slow progress, Dick's manias become increasingly threatening and draw the few remaining family friends into their vortex. Suddenly, as if exhausted by the process, the old man dies, leaving his wife and daughter to cope with literal and figurative ghosts. In a superbly realized irony, each finds her way to a quiet and comfortable peace with his memory. Boylan tells this story with such delicacy and sound good sense that it's exhilarating to read even in its darkest and most agonizing moments. She is a deft technician with an ear for the offbeat, compelling metaphor, and a real feeling for human emotions, both pleasant and not. Lovely, deeply felt fiction, with a subterranean vein of wry humor that helps make bearable even its most pained moments.

Product Details

Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.98(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In September, Mr and Mrs Butler discovered broccoli. Lily already had carrots in her bag. She hated carrots but they went with everything.

    `What's that?' Dick peered at the green sprigs which had been arranged upright in a wooden box. The stout stems seemed full of sap, the mossy heads chaste and secretive. He thought it resembled a virgin forest.

    `It's broccoli.' Lily had seen pictures of it in magazines. `It's supposed to be good for you.'

    `Would we try some?' He eased out a sprig. `One piece each or two? Maybe it will be disappointing. Just the two?'

    They asked the girl at the counter how you cooked broccoli but she had never eaten it. She didn't like vegetables. On the way out Dick noticed that Lily was limping slightly.

    `All right, love? Feet at you?'

    `It's that toenail.'

    `Take my arm.'

    `Ruth's coming tomorrow.' She slipped her hand into his tweeded elbow. `She'll know how to cook broccoli. We'll have the carrots today.'

    `Ruth will make your head spin with ways to cook broccoli.'

    `You know, Dick, it's an awful thing to say but I sometimes wish Ruth didn't know so much. I can never surprise her.'

    `You should have had two daughters.' He shifted the shopping bag containing chops, carrots and broccoli to his other arm and pulled his wife closer. `A smart one you could ring when you wanted to know something and a comfortable one with whom you could discuss what you hadlearnt.'

    `Yes; that would be ideal,' Lily nodded solemnly. But then nothing in life was ideal. That was what poor Ruthie could never accept.

    They fell silent, concentrating on the pavement which was polished with rain. The shopping streets, two miles north of the city, had moved from village to suburban to outer city shabby and now one or two of them were on the way up again. Every so often they threw up set changes to mark the decades. Sweeney's Sweets and Argosy Library was now Meteor Video, and Bertolli's chips and ice-cream had become a health food store. Years out of fashion had left the neighbourhood as sleepy as a rural village, but a fawn haze of urban pollution buffered their horizon, its smell of stout and of the River Liffey as familiar as the smell of a sleeping partner. All in all it was a good address, as Dick liked to say, although a shop which sold nothing but potatoes had always been a thorn in his side.

    When they were first married they had been oppressed by the seriousness of their surroundings, the utility shops and red-bricked houses. Sometimes after they had completed an ordinary transaction like buying milk or a newspaper, they would stand on the pavement afterwards, helpless with laughter. They never had any sensible clothes in those days, not even umbrellas. Once, it had rained so hard they had to shelter in an entrance. Lily wondered if Dick remembered the warm rain making a curtain in the doorway, its pulpy percussion on the street. Her thin dress was slicked to her body, her hair painted to her forehead like wet autumn leaves. Freckles and rain drops glistened on her nose. He had begun to push her hair back from her face and then to kiss her. He pressed against her and she felt that part of him that could only be named in comic terms back then. He said he had to make love to her. Had to, had to. `Stop, Dick,' she said. `We'll soon be home,' but the rain poured down and the streets emptied. `No, Dick!' She tried to push him away. `It's not possible.' She had never said no convincingly and nothing was impossible until tights came in. He was normally a reserved man, but he was occasionally given to rash romantic gestures and was intoxicated by his new marriage. She could still remember the startling pain and heat as he pushed into her, her shocked eyes keeping watch over his shoulder. She had to steady him when someone passed. The man had glanced curiously into the doorway and she had met his eye, and even though he passed by quickly, she knew he knew. She didn't even feel ashamed and as the moment passed she was drawn under by a current of excitement. The rain sluiced over her, on to her eyelids, into her mouth. The harsh friction became an answer to her soft cries. That was the only time she been swept away in the way she read about in novels. She had not told Dick for they did not talk about it. She was soon to discover that he had a prudish side which emerged almost as a reaction to his emotional extravagances. The dress, a pattern of red flowers on white, had been ruined by the rain, as if made of paper.

    When she became pregnant she had a craving for the curious flour-and-water taste of Bertolli's ice-cream and had sent Dick at four in the morning to bang on the door of the Italian. `My wife is expecting a baby' he explained. `She has cravings' The man's wife called down to know what he was doing and he shouted up: `I getta some ice cream for this lady. She having a baby. She half crazy.'

    They came to their street, its sombre brick softened by lines of old trees, and to their tall, narrow house with the black railings gripped so close to its front that it seemed to exist behind a cage. They had lived on the same street, in the same house, for almost fifty years, and were such a familiar sight that people scarcely noticed them. The older residents, mostly living on their own, were aware of Dick and Lily, for they were good neighbours, not because they were sociable, but because they belonged to a time when neighbours looked out for one another. The younger ones laughed at Dick's ancient car rolling slow as a beetle down the street, and some of them had decided that the house wasn't worth ripping off. Otherwise no one bothered with them. Welfare workers observed with relief that they were mobile and independent and that each was in the care of the other. It was only these peripherals that would have caught their attention. That the old folks had any kind of existence within their outsized house would not have occurred to them at all.

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